Forest fire that caused evacuation from Keewaywin First Nation moves closer to the community

Click to play video: 'Forest fire in northwestern Ontario prompts evacuation of First Nations community'
Forest fire in northwestern Ontario prompts evacuation of First Nations community
WATCH ABOVE: A raging forest fire in northwestern Ontario continued to burn on Thursday, July 4, prompting the evacuation of the Keewaywin First Nation community – Jul 5, 2019

A major forest fire in northwestern Ontario that forced nearly all residents of a remote Indigenous community to leave their homes has worked its way closer to the First Nation, a government official said Friday.

Jonathan Scott, a spokesman with the province’s Ministry of Natural Resources, said the blaze dubbed Red Lake Fire 23 is burning eight kilometres south of the community of Keewaywin after growing by about 40 square kilometres since Thursday evening.

READ MORE: Forest fire forces evacuation of Keewaywin First Nation in northern Ontario

Read next: ‘Dances with Wolves’ actor arrested, accused of running sex cult, abusing young girls

Scott said one positive factor was that favourable winds were blowing across the blaze on Friday.

“The good news for today is there’s going to be northwest winds, which will move the fire to the southeast, away from the community,” he said in a telephone interview from Dryden, Ont.

Story continues below advertisement

The fire, now estimated to be roughly 582 square kilometres in size, forced nearly all of Keewaywin’s 450 residents to be evacuated from the community over the course of the week.

READ MORE: Pikangikum First Nation evacuees heading home as officials bring forest fire under control

Read next: ‘Doppelganger murder’: Woman accused of killing lookalike to fake her own death

Community resident and former chief Joe Meekis said all but a handful of people are now staying in larger centres in northern Ontario, such as Sioux Lookout and Timmins.

“Everybody’s out,” he said on Friday. “There’s only monitors there, 10 people maybe.”

Red Lake Fire 23 began as a small blaze a week ago about 40 kilometres from Keewaywin. But with higher winds came an accelerated fire that was soon approaching the community’s borders.

READ MORE: Limiting cannabis stores on Ontario First Nations against ‘community sovereignty’: regional chief

Read next: Longtime CBC journalist, editor dead after random assault in Toronto

Smoke began drifting into the First Nation, prompting residents to close windows and shut down air conditioners.

Ultimately, the chief declared an emergency and the initial transfer of babies, pregnant women, and children under five and their families began.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, a total of 227 people were flown about 330 kilometres south to Sioux Lookout, which has declared its own state of emergency aimed at defraying the cost of helping the evacuees.

Story continues below advertisement

WATCH: Suspicious fire destroys abandoned home in Alderville First Nation

Click to play video: 'Suspicious fire destroys abandoned home in Alderville First Nation'
Suspicious fire destroys abandoned home in Alderville First Nation

More than 200 other residents were flown to Timmins, Ont., on Thursday, Meekis said.

Scott said ministry staff are on scene trying to contain the blaze, noting that weather conditions are expected to remain warm and dry in the coming days.

“Crews are placing sprinklers on areas of the community as a precaution,” he said. “And they’re looking for aerial … opportunities as well.”

READ MORE: Mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows example of government ‘inaction’: UN human rights expert

Read next: ‘Dr. Phil’ talk show to end after 21 years on the air

Keewaywin’s last full evacuation occurred in 2011. While the community was spared, damage to the surrounding area was significant.

Story continues below advertisement

The latest information from the Ministry of Natural Resources indicates there are 26 active fires in the northwest region of the province, with eight that are not under control.

Sponsored content